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Israel

Temple Mount, Jerusalem


Above: Aerial view of the Temple Mount, with the Dome of the Rock in the center and the Al Aqsa Mosque on the upper left of the compound.

The Temple Mount is a elevated plateau in Jerusalem's Old City. Now a Muslim holy site known as Haram Es Sharif, the Temple Mount is rich with history and religious importance. Like many sites in Jerusalem, the Temple Mount has religious significance for Jews, Muslims and Christians.

The Temple Mount is especially holy to Jews and Muslims. For Jews, the Temple Mount is the site of the First and Second Temples as well as important events like the creation of Adam, the first sacrifice made by Adam, Abraham's near-sacrifice of Isaac, and Jacob's famous dream of angels and ladders.

For Muslims, the Temple Mount is the site from which Muhammad embarked on his Night Journey to heaven. The Dome of the Rock, built in 691 AD, is one of the earliest Muslim structures and shelters the very rock on which Muhammad stood. The Temple Mount also contains an ancient and important mosque, the Al Aqsa Mosque, built in 720 AD.

The Temple Mount is a relatively minor site for Christians, but is traditionally believed to contain the "pinnacle of the Temple" (Matthew 4:5) from which Satan tempted Jesus to jump to prove his status as the Messiah (near Al Aqsa Mosque). The courtyard by the mosques provides an excellent view of surrounding Christian sites, including the Dome of the Ascension (marking the site from which where Jesus ascended into heaven) and the dome of Dominus Flevit (commemorating the spot where Jesus wept as he saw a vision of Jerusalem in ruins).

Click on a topic below to learn more about the Temple Mount.

Sites on the Temple Mount

  • Al Aqsa Mosque (720 AD) - one of the oldest and most beautiful mosques in the world
  • Solomon's Stables - underground chambers filled with pigeons that are actually part of the substructure of the Temple Mount constructed by Herod
  • El Kas - a fountain where Muslims perform ablutions before entering the mosque
  • Dome of the Rock (691 AD) - contains the rock from which Muhammad is believed to have ascended into heaven on his Night Journey (Qur'an 17) and is believed to be the site of Abraham's near sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22)
  • Islamic Museum - focuses on Islamic architecture on the Temple Mount

Visitor Information

In times of political unrest, check governmental warnings on the advisability of visiting Temple Mount.

Be sure to wear modest dress for your visit to the Temple Mount, and remember to remove your shoes before entering the Muslim shrines. You are asked not to engage in any religious activity (including prayer) in the mosques.

The Temple Mount is open Saturday to Thursday 7:30-11:00am and 1:30-3:00pm in the summer; 8:00-10:30 and 12:30-2:00pm in the winter. The Temple Mount is closed on all Christian, Jewish or Muslim holidays and any other days considered "sensitive" by the Muslim custodians of the site.

You cannot enter the Dome of the Rock or the El Aksa Mosque during Muslim midday prayers, but you may usually remain on the Temple Mount.

Some Jews visit the Temple Mount only with extreme caution or not at all, due to fears of treading on the forbidden parts of the Temple.

Admission cost is included in the combined ticket for El-Aqsa Mosque, Dome of the Rock, and Islamic Museum, which is NIS 36 ($9).

Whose Sacred Site Is It?

Currently, the Temple Mount is governed by the Waqf, the Supreme Muslim Religious Council. The site has been under Muslim control since the Muslim reconquest of the crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem in the 12th century. This state of affairs was not changed after the area containing the Temple Mount came under Jewish control after the Six-Day War, and Muslims retain almost complete autonomy over the site.

However, the Temple Mount area is of great important to both Judaism and Islam, and ownership of the site continues to be a hotly contested point. Some of the major reasons behind its importance for both faiths are outlined below.

The Temple Mount in Judaism

The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism. According to the Bible, the Talmud, and other sources of Jewish tradition, several important events in the history of Judaism took place on the Temple Mount:

  • Here God gathered the earth from which he formed Adam.
  • Here Adam, Cain, Abel and Noah offered sacrifices to God.
  • Here Abraham passed God's test by showing his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac (the Bible says this is on Mount Moriah, which the Talmud says is another name for the Temple Mount).
  • Here Jacob dreamt about angels ascending and descending a ladder while sleeping on a stone (the stone in the Dome of the Rock is believed to be the very stone).
  • The Temple Mount is believed to be the site of the threshing floor overlooking Jerusalem that King David purchased from Aravnah the Jebusite (2 Samuel, 24:18-25).
  • Here King Solomon built the Temple in 950 BC, which stood for 410 years until it was destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC.
  • Here the Second Temple was built after the Babylonian Exile, which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.
  • During Maimonides' residence in Jerusalem, a synagogue stood on the Temple Mount alongside other structures and Maimonides prayed there.

The Temple Mount (Haram esh-Sharif) in Islam

After the Muslim conquest of this region, the Temple Mount became known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary). It is regarded by Muslims as the third holiest site after Mecca and Medina.

The main reasons for the Temple Mount's importance for Muslims are these:

  • Islam respects Abraham, David and Solomon as prophets, and regards the Temple as one of the earliest and most noteworthy places of worship of God. (However, some Muslims dispute that the Temple Mount is the site of the Jewish Temple.)
  • Verse 17:1 of the Qur'an speaks of the Prophet's night journey to the "farthest Mosque" (al-masjid al-Aqsa). This is traditionally interpreted to be the site at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on which the mosque of that name now stands.
  • Muhammad originally established Jerusalem as the qibla (direction of prayer) before changing it to Mecca.
  • According to Arab historians, when Muslims first entered the city of Jerusalem, the ruins of the Temple were being used as a rubbish dump by the Christian inhabitants, in order to humiliate the Jews and fulfill Jesus' prophecy that not a stone would be left standing on another there. Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab is said to have been horrified at this, ordered it cleaned and performed prayer there at once.

History of Temple Mount

According to the Bible, King David purchased a threshing floor owned by Aravnah the Jebusite (2 Samuel, 24:18-25) overlooking Jerusalem upon the cessation of a plague, to erect an altar. He wanted to construct a permanent temple there, but as his hands were "bloodied," he was forbidden to do so himself, so this task was left to his son Solomon, who completed the task c. 950 BC. After standing for 410 years, the First Temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians in 586 BC.

Reconstruction of the Temple began after the exile to Babylonia. The Second Temple was destroyed by the Roman Emperor Titus 420 years later, in 70 CE. The Romans were, however, unable to topple the Western Wall of the Temple Mount.

Upon the destruction of the Temple, the Rabbis revised prayers, and introduced new ones to request the speedy rebuilding of the temple. They also instituted the saying of the portions of the Torah commanding the bringing of the sacrifices in place of the sacrifices themselves.

After the Muslim conquest of this region, the Temple Mount became known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary). It is revered by Muslims as the place of longstanding worship of God by the Jewish prophets as well as the site of the Prophet Muhammad's night journey to heaven. The Temple Mount is regarded by Muslims as the third most important holy site, after Mecca and Medina.

In 690 CE, after the Islamic conquest of Palestine, an octagonal Muslim shrine (but not a mosque) was built around the rock, which became known as the Dome of the Rock (Qubbat as-Sakhra). In 715 CE the Umayyads rebuilt the Temple's Chanuyos into a mosque, which they named al-Masjid al-Aqsa, "the furthest mosque."

The mosque has been destroyed several times in earthquakes; the current version dates from the first half of the 11th century. Both buildings are considered holy to Muslims and make Jerusalem the third-holiest city, after Mecca and Medina.

The mosque and shrine are currently administered by a Waqf (an Islamic trust) that has been granted almost total autonomy by the State of Israel starting in 1967.

The Temple Mount was open to the general public until September 2000, when Palestinians began throwing stones at Jewish worshipers after then-candidate for prime minister Ariel Sharon visited the area.

Following the onset of violence, the new Sharon government closed the Mount to non-Muslims, using checkpoints to control all pedestrian traffic for fear of further clashes with the Palestinians. The Temple Mount was reopened to non-Muslims in August 2003.

Archaeological Excavation and Damage Controversy

In recent years many complaints have been voiced by Israelis about Muslim construction and excavation on and underneath the Temple Mount, and by Muslims about Israeli excavations. Some claim that this will lead to the destabilization of the retaining walls of the Temple Mount, of which the Western Wall is one, and/or the al-Aqsa Mosque, and allege that one side is doing so deliberately to cause the collapse of the sacred sites of the other.

Since the Waqf is granted almost full autonomy on the Islamic holy sites, Israeli archaeologists have been prevented from inspecting the area; they have, however, conducted several excavations under and around the Temple Mount.

History of the Controversy

In 1967, Israel razed the entire historic medieval Moorish Quarter (Harat al-Magharbah) of the Old City, immediately adjacent to the Temple Mount, to the ground in order to build a new plaza in front of the Western Wall and a yeshiva (source). Many consider this to have severely damaged the historic context of the area.

In 1968-69, Israeli archeologists carried out excavations at the foot of the Temple Mount immediately south of the al-Aqsa mosque and opened two ancient Second Temple period tunnels 30 meters beneath Al-Aqsa Mosque in the area of the Hulda and Single gates, penetrating five meters into one and 30 meters into another. "At the Temple Mount's south wall digging took place to uncover the Arabic Umayyad palaces and Crusader remains" (source).

Over the period 1970-1988, Israeli authorities excavated a tunnel passing immediately to the west of the Temple Mount, northwards from the Western Wall, sometimes using mechanical excavators under the supervision of archeologists. Palestinians claim that both of these have caused cracks and structural weakening of the buildings in the Muslim Quarter of the city above. The Jerusalem Post reported:

"The Moslem authorities were concerned about the ministry tunnel along the Temple Mount wall, and not without cause. Two incidents during the Mazar dig along the southern wall had sounded alarm bells. Technion engineers had already measured a slight movement in part of the southern wall during the excavations...There was no penetration of the Mount itself or danger to holy places, but midway in the tunnel's progress large cracks appeared in one of the residential buildings in the Moslem Quarter, 12 meters above the excavation. The dig was halted until steel buttresses secured the building." - Abraham Rabinovitch, The Jerusalem Post, September 27, 1996 (source)

In 1982, Yehuda Meir Getz, rabbi of the Western Wall, had workmen open the ancient gateway, known as Warren's Gate, between the tunnel leading north from the Western Wall and the innards of the Temple Mount itself. Arabs on the Mount heard excavation noises from one of the more than two dozen cisterns on the Mount. Israeli Government officials, upon being notified of the unauthorized tunneling, ordered Warren's Gate resealed. It remains closed today.

Beginning in 1996, the Muslim Waqf has been constructing a series of works on and under the Temple Mount. The construction has been carried out without any archeological supervision. Material has been removed using bulldozers and other earth moving equipment.

In 1996 the Waqf began construction in the structures known (inaccurately) since Crusader times as Solomon's Stables, and in the Eastern Hulda Gate passageway, allowed the (re)opening of a mosque called the Marwani Musalla (claimed by Israel to be new, by Palestinians to be restored from pre-Crusader times) capable of accommodating 7,000 individuals. Many Israelis regard this as a radical change of the status quo under which the site had been administered since the Six-Day War which should not have been undertaken without consulting the Israeli government; Palestinians regard these objections as irrelevant. Though the building was built at the same time as the Al-Aqsa Mosque, whether the building had been a mosque before Crusader times or not is unknown:

"The underground area used today as the Marwani Mosque appears to have been built at the same time as the Al-Aksa Mosque in the 8th century and may have been renovated in the 10th century, but there is no evidence that the area was ever used as a mosque." - Israeli archeologist Jon Seligman (source)

In 1997, the Western Hulda Gate passageway was converted into another mosque. In November 1999, a buried Crusader-era door was reopened as an emergency exit for the Marwani Mosque, opening a excavation claimed by Israel to be 18,000 square feet (1,700 m) in size and up to 36 feet (11 m) deep. According to The New York Times, an emergency exit had been urged upon the Waqf by the Israeli police, and its necessity was acknowledged by the Israeli Antiquities Authority (source).

In 1996, Israel completed a second tunnel beside the Temple Mount, which Palestinians say trespassed on Waqf property.

Archeologist Leon Pressouyre, a UNESCO envoy who visited the site in 1998 and claims to have been prevented from meeting Israeli officials (source), accuses the Israeli government of culpably neglecting to protect the Islamic period buildings uncovered in Israeli excavations.

More recently, Prof. Oleg Grabar of the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton University has replaced Leon Pressouyre as the UNESCO envoy to investigate the Israeli allegations that antiquities are being destroyed by the Waqf on the Temple Mount. (source) Initially, Grabar was denied access to the buildings by Israel for over a year, allegedly due to the threat of violence resulting from the al-Aqsa Intifada. His eventual conclusion was that the monuments are deteriorating largely because of conflicts over who is responsible for them, the Jordanian government, the local Palestinian Authority or the Israeli government.

In early 2001, Israeli police said they observed bulldozers destroying an ancient arched structure located adjacent to the eastern wall of the Temple Mount in the course of construction during which 6,000 square meters of the Temple Mount were dug up by tractors, paved, and declared to be open air mosques, which is assumed to have intermixed the underlying strata. Some of the earth and rubble removed was dumped in the El-Azaria and in the Kidron Valleys, and some of it (as of September 2004) remained in mounds on the site.

The excavation and removal of earth with minimal archaelogical supervision became an issue of controversy, with some scholars such as Jon Seligman claiming that valuable history material is being destroyed and others, such as Dan Bahat and Meir Ben-Dov, disputing this assessment. The Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) inspected the material and declared it of no archaelogical value, but a group called the Committee for the Prevention of Destruction of the Antiquities on the Temple Mount campaigned against this position and in September 2004 obtained a temporary injunction against the IAA and the Muslim Waqf preventing them from removing the material which still lies in mounds on the site. Both sides accuse the other of having political motivation.

In autumn 2002, a bulge of about 700 mm was reported in the southern retaining wall part of the Temple Mount. It was feared that that part of the wall might seriously deteriorate or even collapse. The Waqf would not permit detailed Israeli inspection but came to an agreement with Israel that led to a team of Jordanian engineers inspecting the wall in October. They recommended repair work that involved replacing or resetting most of the stones in the affected area which covers 2,000 square feet (200 m) and is located 25 feet (8 m) from the top of the wall. (source) Repairs were completed before January 2004. The restoration of 250 square meters of wall cost 100,000 Jordanian dinars ($140,000) (source).

On February 11, 2004, the eastern wall of the Temple Mount was damaged by an earthquake. The damage threatens to topple sections of the wall into the area known as Solomon's Stables. (source)

On February 16, 2004, a portion of a stone retaining wall supporting the ramp that leads from the Western Wall plaza to the Gate of the Moors (Arabic Bab al-Maghariba, Hebrew Sha'ar HaMughrabim) and on the Temple Mount collapsed (source).

Source: Wikipedia

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